Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Remembering My Father

Composed by me, his eldest child, and read at his funeral June 30, 2017  

When someone dies, among the things that people recall are some of the last things said by that person.
  • ·      When I visited him in the hospital, he said “Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes.”
  • ·      when I visited him in nursing care after he was out of the hospital, he opened his eyes and said “Hi sweetheart.”
  • ·      Two days before he died, he said “I loved your mother very deeply, and could not have been the man I was without her.  And then when she died, Verna Mae came into my life, and she was the right one for me at that time.  I love them both very dearly.”
  • ·      Without any preamble, he said “Give my computer to ______ Mission when I am gone.”
  • ·      And then, he said—“make sure you take everything off of the computer before you give it away.”
  • ·      He also told me a joke—two days before he died.  Out of the blue…and even though I had heard it before, I marveled at the humor in him.
  • ·      Finally he said—“I am so ready to die.  I wish the Lord would take me home. I want to go.” 

Here are a few of the things my dad said to me in his last days:
But words are not all that I remember about my father. These are some of my remembrances—

  • ·      My dad taught me how to ride a bicycle. Of course, many dads do that, but mine taught me by walking along behind me, holding the bike (in the absence of training wheels), urging me to peddle, steadying the bike. Then when I got the bike going nicely along, he let go. Of course, I didn't know it, but I was peddling on my own. When I looked back, I wobbled and crashed, but a couple repeats--and I had learned to ride.
  • ·      My dad always had time for me to crawl up on his lap. And he always had hugs for me (and my brother and sister, too).
  • ·      When I was a small girl, my dad let me play with his hair. When he was tired in the evenings, he would sit down, and lean back. His eyes shut, he let me (perhaps even encouraged me) to comb his hair every which way. I had lots of fun, and I suspect he enjoyed the relaxation.
  • ·      My dad let me play his 45 rpm records of classical recordings. He had a set of Beethoven's string quartets, and I asked to play them. My dad said--go ahead. That experience, along with some others, encouraged my love of classical music. My dad could have said--no, those records are too valuable. But he said--go ahead, and encouraged a musical taste in me.
  • ·      My dad allowed me to make my own way. I remember a specific episode--we were on board ship crossing back to America, and the entertainment was a kind of gambling. Another passenger offered to let me play with $5--I asked my dad what to do. My dad said "you know what your mother and I think, but you decide for yourself." The message was--we don't approve of gambling, but you decide. Well, I did decide to use the money to play. And I didn't feel any regret, but the important thing was that my dad said--you decide.

A number of people have remarked to me, after reading my father’s obituary, “my, what a full, rich and interesting life your father had.” Well, that he did.

Many of you know the basics about his life. So, I won’t repeat that here.  I will, however, share a few stories.

When he was 18, his parents told him it was “time to move out.” They simply could not afford to feed three younger children and my dad.  Dad needed to keep working to gather enough funds to go to college. So Dad first worked on a farm in Lancaster County. Then he found a job as a butler in a wealthy home just outside of Philadelphia. Things did not go well—and he was dismissed from that job.  (It’s a long story…)

Then, in 1940, my father found work as a houseman, one of a number of servants, in the summer home of Henry McCormick. The McCormicks were a prominent family in Harrisburg.  My father’s duties included pressing Mr. McCormick’s suit daily, polishing his shoes, wet mopping the front porch weekly, and cranking ice cream weekly. My father also occasionally served as a driver to help with transportation. He even had a slight accident while driving one of these cars, but Mr. McCormick was a kindly soul and nothing came of the incident.

Dad was always interested in things mechanical—cars, machines, even in his later years, computers.  He told the story of a time that the two dignitaries came to visit the churches in southern Africa. Graybill Wolgemuth was a Mission Board member who came to visit Sikalongo and David wanted to take him to an out-station. He chose a school south of Sikalongo Mission, down the escarpment towards the Zambezi Valley, where road conditions were very poor and the road quite steep. The vehicle they had was an older one, and the brakes were in bad shape. Even with David using the foot brake and the hand brake, it was all he could do hold the car on the steep decline. David instructed the African helper who was along to find a big rock, and then get on the running board of the car. He then instructed the helper that if the car would start going too fast, David would call out, the helper should jump off and quickly put the rock under the front of the rear wheel to help stop the car. Graybill Wolgemuth was duly impressed with the conditions under which the missionaries worked.
In 1987, Dad and Mother moved to Messiah Village. Mother was insistent that they move there, rather than buy a house in the area. She had a sense that Dad might need the support that a place like Messiah Village could affort. And she was right. When she died unexpectedly in 1991, the Village and the people there helped my dad through that time.

But the other support that he received was marrying Verna Mae. About two years after Mother’s death, people began suggesting women who might be “approachable.” Truth is—Dad had his own ideas. He decided on someone he had known through her work in the BinC Missions Office—Verna Mae Ressler. He told me about her as he courted her. And, one day, as he got ready to go and see her, he said—well, he wasn’t sure that she was the one, maybe he should tell her so.  That evening when he got back from their “date,” he called me and said—well, we are engaged!

What a blessing Verna Mae has been.  All of us in the family can attest to that.

Now, he is gone. No more stories, but many memories. Thanks be to God for his life of service.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

When Death Comes

(This is a blog post I first wrote in January, 2007)

I visited with my father today. While I don’t visit as frequently as I should, perhaps, I do try to get out (meaning to the retirement village where he lives) on a fairly frequent basis. At 87, he is in wonderfully good health and, as they say, in complete possession of all his faculties. I know it frustrates him when he can’t pull a word up as quickly as he would like out of his mental memory banks, but neither can I.

He has always been handy with things mechanical. When my mother died almost sixteen years ago, one of the things my husband and I did was buy my father a word processor. He had talked about writing up his memories in an autobiographical form, so a word processor seemed like a good way to facilitate that. He did set to work on his autobiography, vowing to “keep lying to a minimum.” As a former missionary, he has lived a full life with many experiences. One of the things that amazes me is his recall of place names and people names from decades ago.

It didn’t take long for him to outgrow the word processor and he got his first computer. He joined the Golden Mouse club at his retirement village and soon was learning the ways of the computer world. And like many seniors, he also moved into the cyber world of email.

When I visit, he frequently has a computer question. I certainly understand his reluctance to do some of the computer updating that needs to be done. Luckily for me, most of what he asks I can do. Several Christmases ago, he asked for help getting a new computer, and together we went shopping for his current desktop.

All this leads me to our conversation today. Understandably, my father is mindful of his mortality. His elder brother died almost two years ago, and my father knows that his life is not limitless. While we were talking today, he said that he would like me to do something upon his death. After my mother’s death, my father did remarry. I am very thankful for the wonderful wife he has, but she is not computer savvy. So, my father asked that, when he dies, would I please use his email list to inform all his email contacts of his death. It is a simple enough request for me to acquiesce to, and, of course, I did.

But I did think of that wonderful poem by Mary Oliver, 
When Death Comes, and hence the title of this blog. Oh, I don’t know when my father will die, and frankly, it is not a morbid subject for me. I know we are all dust—as the words in Scripture remind us. And, my father is a Christian, so his death, when it occurs, is not cause for sorrow. I wish him as many more years of health and happiness as he has. And I will inform his email friends when he is gone.

My father died June 25, 2017, at age 98.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Post Oscars...and, no, I didn't hope La La Land would win!

Usually, I write my second (or in some cases third) post on prepping for the upcoming Oscars. This year, obviously, not.
But we did redouble our efforts and saw three more of the nominated movie.

Here are ALL the nominees (small print--we didn't see; all caps--we did):


OK, so we only missed one. And maybe I will yet see it--thought, I don't know, sci-fi futuristic time-bending movies are not my cup-of-tea.

The movies in red text above were the second round of what we saw. First, a quick run-down on each.

HACKSAW RIDGE--a riveting TRUE story, a sound and visual effects triumph, a Mel Gibson project. To the true story I say KUDOS. To the sound and visual effects triumph I say OK, but movies need more than that to be great. To Mel Gibson, I say--meh, although the directing was fine.  
I truly enjoyed the story--my own family background in a denomination which was strongly pacifist deepened my understanding for the Desmond Doss story. However, lengthy portions portray the inconceivable violence that is true of any and all battles, but particularly so in the Pacific front of World War II.  The protracted battle for  Okinawa was VIOLENT, squared. It was for me eye-averting violent...hand in front of my face, peeping through my fingers occasionally.

HELL OR HIGH WATER was a surprise--a very pleasant surprise. My pre-viewing take was "oh, great, another modern Western."  Well, yes, it was BUT very good. First, any movie with Jeff Bridges  has to be good, if only to watch him at his acting craft. He is the quintessential Texas Ranger who wants one more triumph to cap his career. He gets that opportunity when a rash of small time robberies occur in  banks in west Texas. 
Through his long experience he has a finely honed sense of what the robbers are like. The movie goes back and forth between the two robbers--brothers with a particular goal in mind for their robbing, and the Texas Rangers on a trail to catch the robbers. No more plot--you can watch it for yourself.  But the acting is superb, the scenery spare and somewhat depressing portraying the impact of economic downturn on a part of the U.S., and the plot is compelling.  
Having seen it, I thought this movie would have been every bit deserving of winning any Oscar nomination it received--including best picture, which--of course--it didn't.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA--well, what to say? Sad--oh yes, unquestionably. Moving--indeed. Depressing--sure, it has to be.  But the best actor award Casey Affleck received was most deserved. He portrays a loner--Lee Chandler--who works as a handyman in Boston.  He snaps at the people who call him to fix whatever needs fixing. In turn they are nasty to him. He is cut off from any positive human contact. 
But one day, he gets a call that his older brother, Joe--who lives in their hometown of Manchester by the Sea, has had a heart attack, and dies.  Lee goes to tell Joe's son Patrick that his father has died. When Joe's will is read, it turns out he named Lee as guardian for Patrick, as well as executor. While in Manchester, Lee sees his ex-wife. The reason between the division between them becomes revealed--and I won't divulge it--but it is enough to say that Lee is a bundle of inchoate grief. Cut off in every way--human interaction, emotion, love. 
The dual tug of caring for his nephew and dealing with his painful past that involves his ex-wife--that is the engine for the plot at the movie unfolds.

So, now, reordering my original pick for top movie, after seeing the three described above (in order of which one I liked the best):

Hell or High Water
Manchester by the Sea
Hidden Figures

Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land

I don't want to suggest there is any correlation between what I enjoy, and what wins best picture, because many times I have been out of step with the Academy.  Some years, more spectacularly than others.  But that's another blog...

Monday, February 20, 2017

Mini Prep for the Oscars

If you are a long time reader, you know I love the movies. And you know each year my husband and I try to see at least some of the nominees for Best Picture of the Year.  Since the Academy has expanded the number of movies which could be nominated--from 5 to up to 10--that has gotten more difficult.

First, we don't go to THAT many movies. Second, some movies, even though nominated, are just not my "cup of tea."

So, here's what we saw this year--in order of seeing them.

Fences, Lion, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, La La Land

Yes, I know that means we missed Manchester by the Sea, but that will just have to do.

Our favorite among these--in order of enjoyed the most to the least.

Hidden Figures
La La Land

...although between the last two, it's a toss up.

And now why.
We loved the story of Hidden Figures--an aptly named movie about African-American women who were highly talented, and eventually able to work on the early U.S. space program. A revelation to me, having never heard of any of these women.  Hidden indeed.  Their jobs--well, mathematical computation and computing. In fact, there was a whole room full of "computers"--not machines, but people, working on mathematical computation using figure. And they were all "colored" in the jargon of the day.  When the one woman who was from her childhood a math wizard gets an opportunity to move into the main mission control room, she is understandably elated and incredibly challenged. Not by the scope of the work--that she can do--but by the arrangements. While she works side by side with white co-workers, when she needs to go to the bathroom, she is told "there are no colored bathrooms in this building."  So she has to run across the sprawling complex (a half a mile, we learn later) to use the "colored bathroom" in her old work space.

When another one of the heroines, Dorothy Vaughn, seizes an opportunity to do programming on the gigantic computer (think a whole room that is the computer)--she is mistaken for a janitor and is told where the trash is. She has learned how to program on her own by reading instructional books on programming in Fortran. And a third heroine, Mary Jackson, has to go to court to get permission to attend night classes at an all-white high school in town, just so she can meet the entry requirements for the job.

These women fill me with wonder, awe, gratitude and anger. While never the point of the movie, I can't help but think of our country's regression to a time like the early 1960s, before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  Racism is never far below the surface in our country. And this movie is a reminder of what we lose when we make outcast a whole group of people--whether women, people of color, people of different ethnicity or religion.

This post will get entirely too long if I tell you how I felt about the other movies--
Lion, a triumph of incredible perseverance for an orphan from India who is adopted by a family in Australia to find his birth home through use of Google Earth (!).
Fences--a masterpiece of American literature by the late playwright August Wilson, which explores the triumphs and defeats of an African-American family in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. The movie is a show case for Oscar worthy performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
La La Land--a popular favorite and presumptive winner about the dreams of a young couple who want to make it big in Hollywood. Their dreams are realized and dashed in equal portions. Oh, and it's also a musical, presumably an homage to big Hollywood musical productions with a plot overlay of modern disappointment.
Moonlight--a story of one African-American young man from his childhood where he contends with being bullied, having a derelict drug-abusing mother, and a stand-in father figure who turns out to be a drug dealer to his maturing and regrets which have brought him to a lonely existence. As if that weren't enough, he also works through coming to an understanding of his sexuality as a gay man.

There you have it.
We'll be watching on Sunday night.